Wednesday, 23 March 2016

March meeting - Keep Calm and Carry on Singing

Thank you to Sarah for updating us on this month's meeting...

We are in March so it's officially spring but I reckon I'm not the only one still feeling wintery, sluggish and decidedly lacklustre. Our meetings always have a feelgood factor but this one really warmed our hearts and lifted our spirits and once again, showed us just what we can achieve, when we have great people to guide us along the way.

Business is business however and important matters such as the result of the vote for this year's Resolutions and updates on the various projects we are involved with, needed discussing first. These include the opportunity to take part in an upcoming event to welcome recent immigrants to Bradford, and providing the catering for a local Wool Festival for the second year running.

Twenty first century life is often discombobulating and we get pulled in so many different directions that our minds are turning somersaults. So it's never been more important that we are able to take time to be calm and centred. Which is where our first speaker, Steve, comes in. Steve is based at the Leeds branch of Mind which provides peer led support, retreats and courses, one of which is Mindfulness and Meditation.

We learned that mindfulness goes back over 2500 years, way before the Buddhist and Sufi teachings we often associate it with. It can help us to develop deeper awareness and kindness and to cope more effectively in many challenging situations, such as recovery from depression or managing stress, anxiety and physical pain. So essentially, it's for just about everyone. Under Steve's guidance we took part in a short exercise where we concentrated on the air entering and leaving our body, the sounds around us and on neither blocking out, nor focusing on, our thoughts. A short but profoundly wise statement Steve passed on to us, was that our thoughts are not facts. Awareness of this, makes us better able to check out the truth behind the things we tell ourselves and the things others may tell us about ourselves. It felt very liberating to be given a bit of time out, where nothing was asked of us, other than to sit calmly and just be.

After feeding the soul, it was time to feed the body, which we did with our usual enthusiasm. With a choir workshop ahead of us, it was essential we fortify ourselves with all the energy giving grub we could get our mitts on.

The second guest of the month, was Frances Bernstein, who leads two choirs in Leeds and has worked with many other community choirs over the years.

Many of us, didn't rate ourselves as singers before Frances set to work on us. We totally surprised ourselves though, as after less than two hours, not only could we sing a song, we could sing it in four part harmony and in its original language. South African born Frances, chose a song that really resonated with us as a WI group. It was originally sung by black women in protest against the heinous Pass Laws of Apartheid. Basically it states that if you pit yourself against women, you hit a rock.

Singing in a large group is so joyful and engaging, that like Mindfulness, it places you truly in the moment. As you concentrate on learning words and different parts and keeping it all together, you can't be thinking of anything else. The experience really had us buzzing.

A huge thank you to Steve and Frances for giving us such a life-enhancing afternoon.

Until next month I will end with the words of our last song:
Famba Naye, Famba naye nai ba ba -
Keep you in peace, until we all meet again.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Winter catch-up - what we did in January and February...

We tried something a little bit different, for us, in January. We decided to get jolly well serious about this year's proposed resolutions. (Ooh ominous!) To explain, the deadline was looming to vote on the resolutions going forward to this year's NFWI AGM, and it's only the 3rd time we've had to go through this process since we started. In previous years we've simply read through the resolutions, and then had a bit of a quick informal group chat before polling our members. That has worked for us... but we've also had the feeling that we've not really been that well informed when we've voted. So this year we've decided to discuss the heck out of the resolutions (well, as much as one meeting will allow) and see how that works out for us.

And so 8 plucky volunteers stepped forward to give a talk on each resolution to the group gathered at our January meeting, before further group discussion and voting. First impressions from our new approach to the resolutions? 1. It took a surprisingly long time! There was a very long list this year, and each potential campaign issue had a mountain of background material to be mined... Even so, we probably only touched the surface of the issues and still took at least 2 hours to get through the process of presenting and discussing, then choosing. 2. But it definitely seemed like a worthwhile effort. So much goes into the resolutions process throughout the whole organisation on a national level, that it seems crazy to vote without properly considering all the options! FYI, the resolution that received the most votes in our WI was for equal funding for mental health care in the NHS, and we wait with bated breath to see which resolution gets the nod for June's AGM in Brighton.

After lunch, Angie Goddard, Archivist for Girl Guiding England joined us for a talk on the history of the movement in this, their Centenary year. Many of our members have been Girl Guides, so the talk triggered a lot of fond nostalgia. A big thank you to Angie for being such a warm, engaging guest.

And we still weren't done... even then. The marathon January meeting was concluded with a lovely, relaxing decoupage workshop, which was of course delivered by our very talented and hard working Jayne - eeh, we get our money's worth from that lass! (What do you mean you're not paid Jayne? You get as many biscuits as you want don't you?!) If you've never heard of decoupage it's basically cutting and sticking for adults, but hopefully with prettier results than I see when I pick my kids up from Craft Club every Tuesday evening. The idea was to take something useful (for instance, a storage box or some other household item) and make it exceedingly beautiful by applying decorative papers with a magical paste called Hodge Podge. Roll the picture gallery...

And then January rolled into February, bringing us right bang up to date. Thanks to our love of doing a workshop activity that has an obvious / or sometimes very tenuous :-) link to the month of the meeting... we decided that it was only fitting to honour the month of the Chinese New Year with some Tai Chi. Lucy of Lishi Tai Chi in Leeds joined us and gave us a really exemplary talk on Lishi, the particular form of Tai Chi that she practises, and its origins and strong history in Leeds, followed by an amazingly graceful and impressive demonstration. We then joined in for an active workshop, and we loved Lucy (and her daughter!) for her amazing energy and commitment - she gave us so much time and was so generous and enlightening. Thank you Lucy for the opportunity to learn a little bit about connecting with our chi - something that's a little bit mysterious and unknown for us uninitiated Westerners, but we could definitely feel the force!

Winter catch-up - what we did in December...

Now that Spring is, erm... springing, let's begin an overdue catch-up on the myriad ways we've entertained ourselves, Darling Roses style, over the last few soggy months.

Christmas cheer with mulled wine, mince pies, carol singing and stocking stitching

In December we enjoyed a very cosy and Christmassy afternoon of mulled wine and carols, which we all belted out merrily to the accompaniment of our Karen's marvellous piano playing. Yes, it was a production that was reminiscent of the Christmas TV specials of yesteryear, I'm thinking Val Doonican, Morecambe and Wise, Dave and Bing... maybe even shades of the 1995 Shooting Stars Christmas classic.

Jayne set up a 'drop-in' workshop making Christmas stockings and was on hand with her expertise throughout, so that we could keep our pre-Christmas get-together quite informal, sociable and relaxed, with people able to craft and mingle, or just mingle if that was enough for you! Once the business end of the meeting was done and a good number of pies had been eaten, the carol singing was a fitting and lovely end to our year. Very cheery, warming and reasonably tuneful. Debbie excelled herself on the projected lyric sheets (a step up from our school memories of dodgy acetates!), and a big thank you to Karen for being a musical maestro and playing the piano so well for us - it really made the day.